Monday, August 01, 2005

Free vs. "Free" (wink wink)

I've spent the last few months trying to move away from the less-than-legal software I use on my laptop, mostly for website stuff. I've dumped DreamWeaver in favour of PSPad for HTML and PHP coding, and replaced PhotoShop with The GIMP for image manipulation. I use a legally-licensed version of CuteFTP now (have done for aages, though), and a freeware SSH client for MySQL database management. I've not used Internet Explorer at home for more than a year thanks to Firefox, and all my email lands in Thunderbird. I run my own local SMTP server through PostCast. I use OpenOffice.Org in place of Word and Excel.

A couple of days ago, someone asked me why.

The free software I use now does pretty much exactly the same job as the "free" (wink wink) stuff I've been using for years, and in a lot of cases I have to get used to an entirely different interface before I can get the stuff to do what I want. The GIMP was the longest transition - took me forever to figure out how to stroke text, after Photoshop's three-click version.

Generally speaking, the software isn't free for me either; I usually donate between $10-20 to the developers behind these applications. Granted, even $20 is a steal compared to the $600 they charge for a new version of Photoshop.

I guess I just like supporting the little guys who code these fantastic pieces of software for free. There's something more satisfying about using a program created by a group of people doing it for the enjoyment of coding, rather than something churned out by the Beast Of Redmond or a bunch of rip-off artists. Nothing against the developers, just their corporate masters.

On top of that, I can get the newest versions of the free stuff without having to hunt for a (possibly virus-laden) installer for the "free" (wink wink) stuff, then trying to get an install code that'll validate the thing properly. Plus, I get the support from the group that released it if anything goes screwy.

I'm a big fan of the idea that information should be free, especially on the internet, and I like to support the idea that if a piece of software is good enough, people will pay you for it. That's a much better idea than charging an extortionate amount simply because you produce the "industry standard" program and can get away with ripping people off to the tune of $600. There aren't anywhere near $150(times however many copies they'll sell)-worth of improvements between the two latest commercial releases of Photoshop either, so there's no excuse to charge people that much for the upgrade. The download version should have shipping and packaging costs stripped as well.

But yeah. Free software is good - and what's more, it's worth paying for.

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